Woman walks from Dearborn to Holly to protest vet care

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Holly — With her son, a sister and several friends in tow, a Dearborn woman fought off fatigue, heat, blisters, aching muscles and throbbing feet to complete a 60-mile walk Tuesday to protest a lack of treatment for veterans.

Debbie Debolt, 60, led the walk down Telegraph to Dixie Highway in Oakland County and finally down a rural dirt back road to the Great Lakes National Veterans Cemetery — where her husband, a Vietnam War combat medic, was buried two years ago.

She described her journey as a respectful protest and hoped to draw attention to veterans failing to get the timely medical care and attention they deserve.

“Too often veterans are having to wait weeks, even months to get the care they need and if they finally get it, sometimes it is too late,” said Debolt, who wore an American flag shirt and carried a flag along the entire route from Dearborn.

“Alan sought help in an emergency room for a very painful condition — kidney cancer — and his follow up appointment was scheduled two months away,” she said. “He was told he could not receive at-home hospice care from the VA. While they have a hospice section in the hospital, its 15 beds were all occupied. It would have taken two months to get him admitted there.

“He died on the very same day he was supposed to see a doctor. That’s not right.”

She and others believe Debolt’s cancer was caused by exposure to Agent Orange while in the U.S. Army.

A statement from the Veterans Administration office in Detroit Tuesday said the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center partners with other health facilities in the area if it’s not able to provide procedures or care.

Debolt was seen in a timely manner and referred for health care in the community, according to the VA statement. His disease was advanced, as his family has said, and ultimately succumbed to it.

She said despite the best intentions of some influential friends — including U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and State Rep. George Darany, D-Dearborn — nothing has changed.

“I appreciate all their support but I knew I had to do something outrageous to draw attention to the issue,” Debolt said. “I figured this was something I could do and would help get the message out.

“I don’t know what I will do next but this is not the end of making some noise,” she told applauding supporters who met her outside the cemetery.

The walk began at 7:30 a.m. Sunday at the Vietnam Veterans Post No. 267 on Telegraph south of Michigan. It ended off Belford inside the gates of the cemetery about 3 p.m. Tuesday — on her 41st wedding anniversary.

Debolt was accompanied by her son, Alan Jr., 37; her sister, Janice Leach, 53; Thomas Streed, an 18-year-old film studies student at Michigan State University who filmed the walk for a documentary; and friends who drove along the route to provide “logistical and emotional support” she said.

Other friends and strangers jumped in along the way, some following along on parts of the walk. Motorists drove past “tooting” their horns and leaning out car windows to shout out support. Debolt said she received hugs from strangers who said they had heard of her walk.

“She has kept extensive notes on what her husband did to try and get help and the explanations they received from the VA, doctors and others along the way,” Darany said.

“What no one can answer is the delays, the red tape and why it takes so long to get help. Everyone recognizes there is problem.

“We are talking about men and women who served their country. Don’t they deserve better consideration from their country?”

Debolt noted the Great Lakes National Veteran Cemetery in Holly is a beautiful final resting place for her husband and nearly 30,000 other veterans.

“Vets are taken care of so well there.

“It’s just too bad they aren’t taken care of that well while they’re still alive.”


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